RITMO is an interdisciplinary research centre focused on rhythm as a structuring mechanism for the temporal dimensions of human life.
Rhythm is omnipresent in human life, as we walk, talk, dance and play; as we tell stories about our past; and as we predict the future. Rhythm is also central to human biology, from the micro-oscillations of our nervous system to our heartbeats, breathing patterns and longer chronobiological cycles (or biorhythms). As such, it is a key aspect of human action and perception that is in complex interplay with the various cultural, biological and mechanical rhythms of the world.
RITMO will undertake research on rhythm in human action and perception, using music, motion and audio-visual media as empirical points of departure. The centre is interdisciplinary and will combine perspectives and methods from music and media studies, philosophy and aesthetics, cognitive neuroscience, and informatics, using state-of-the-art technologies for motion capture, neuroimaging, pupillometry and robotics.
A Centre of Excellence in Norway
Vision and research priorities
Our core idea is that the human ability to experience the world and our actions as rhythmic, points to a basic cognitive mechanism that is in itself rhythmic in nature. The vision of RITMO is to understand more about this cognitive mechanism and the ways in which humans structure and understand the temporal dimensions of their life. We focus on four research priorities and three empirical fields (see figure 1):
- STRUCTURE: generate insights into the role of rhythm in structuring and predicting forthcoming events in time.
- INTERACTION: explain the role of rhythm in synchronisation and interaction between humans.
- PLEASURE: generate insights about the relationships between rhythm and people’s experience of pleasure.
- TIME: understand rhythm as a means of representing processes that stretch far beyond the perceptual ‘now’, from large-scale artistic forms to historical narratives.
RITMO will pursue these four overarching research priorities in three empirical fields — music, motion, and audiovisual media — which represent different but related modalities of rhythm.
The centre comprises leading scholars in all of these fields.
In RITMO we will employ a unique mix of perspectives, competences and infrastructures:
- Qualitative methods from the arts and humanities (interviews, qualitative analyses, and aesthetic and cultural interpretation)
- Quantitative methods from psychology and neuroscience (behavioural experiments, motion capture and neuroimaging techniques)
- Informatics (machine learning, computer modelling, rapid prototyping)
Such a radically interdisciplinary approach to rhythm has never before been undertaken and allows for promising paths of interpretative exploration and investigation through carefully designed experimental work.
- Provide a comprehensive and interdisciplinary understanding of the perceptual and cognitive mechanisms underlying the human capacity to execute and experience rhythm.
- Generate new insights into rhythmic structures and features of music, human bodily motion and audiovisual media.
- Establish a link between the basic structures and features of rhythmic phenomena in the world and within the (embodied) mind.
- Develop new theoretical frameworks for exploring the complexity of rhythmic processes in human life across disciplines.
The researchers will be organised in three research clusters:
Music and Mind
will perform analytical, interpretive and experimental work on rhythm in music as well as the cognitive mechanism(s) underlying rhythm. Core topics are prediction and variation in musical rhythm, as well as the role of rhythm in large-scale formations of time.
The cluster comprises researchers from musicology (ethnomusicology, music theory/music analysis), aesthetics, psychology and neuroscience.
Motion and Machine
will investigate rhythm in biomechanical systems. The research will centre on the complementary activities of building theoretical models and validating them through empirical studies of human music-related body motion and modelling in machine-based systems (both computer simulation and robots).
The group comprises researchers from musicology, psychology and informatics who will use a mix of qualitative and quantitative methods.
will investigate the role of rhythm in audiovisual aesthetics and contemporary immersive media practices. Using audiovisual ‘texts’ as empirical material, this cluster’s methods will encompass audience observations and interviews, music analysis, hermeneutics, phenomenology and semiotics.
The cluster amalgamates fields such as musicology, informatics/music information retrieval (MIR), cognitive psychology, media and technology studies, philosophy and film studies.
What is rhythm?
Rhythm is ordered patterns in time. Such patterns are not static, because they are made up of both repetition/periodicity and variation/expressivity. Rhythm as a phenomenon thus ultimately relies on the complementary nature of these two poles, as articulated by the notion of rhythm as a ‘changing same’ (LeRoi Jones).
Rhythm patterns emerge when we perform or observe repeated events, and they can occur in any sensory modality (visual, auditory, etc.) or even in combinations of modalities (audiovisual, etc.). The capacity to mentally ‘form’ rhythmic time structures out of such changing events is profoundly human and probably species specific, and it conditions many aspects of human life and expression.